The future Empress Elizabeth of Russia was born on 29 December 1709 as the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I of Russia. She and her sister Anna were the only two children of their parents to survive to adulthood. They had one half-sibling, Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich, born from their father’s first marriage to Eudoxia Lopukhina. Her education was lacking, but she was considered to be quite intelligent. Not much attention was paid to her education as she was not considered a serious candidate for the throne as Alexei also had a son. She did additionally speak Italian, German and French and was considered an excellent dancer and a great beauty.
In 1724 both Elizabeth and her sister Anna were betrothed to two German first cousins. Anna was betrothed to Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp and Elizabeth was betrothed to Charles Augustus of Holstein-Hottorp. Anna’s wedding to Charles Frederick went ahead in 1725 despite their father’s death. Elizabeth’s fiancé died in May 1727, just two weeks after the death of her mother. She was now an orphan and without marriage prospects. Her mother had succeeded her father as Empress of Russia and she, in turn, was now succeeded by Alexei’s son Peter, now Peter II. Alexei had died in 1718 at the age of 28. Peter would die just three years into his reign at the age of 14. He was succeeded by Empress Anna, who was a daughter of Peter the Great’s elder brother Ivan V. Meanwhile Elizabeth had also lost her sister, who had died in 1728 shortly after giving birth to a son, also named Peter.
Elizabeth could not risk her claim to the throne by marrying below her status, and so she took several lovers, one of which had his tongue cut off when Empress Anna found out. Elizabeth finally settled on Alexis Razumovsky as a lover.
During the ten years of Empress Anna’s reign, Elizabeth remained popular, and she enjoyed the support from the Russian guards regiments. When Anna died in 1740, she was briefly succeeded by the infant Ivan VI, son of the regent Anna Leopoldovna (niece of Empress Anna).
On 25 November 1741 Elizabeth seized power with the help of the Preobrazhensky regiment and the words, “Whom do you want to serve: me, your natural sovereign, or those who have stolen my inheritance?” The coup succeeded without bloodshed. The infant Ivan VI spent the rest of his life imprisoned, while his parents and siblings, who were born later, were also kept in captivity away from him.
Elizabeth was now at the head of the empire at the age of 33. She was her father’s daughter and showed it in her political genius. She knew that she needed an heir, and she selected Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, her sister’s son. Her was proclaimed her heir in 1742, and he came to Russia and was received into the Orthodox Church. In 1745 he married Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, who would later be known as Catherine the Great. When their son Paul was born nine years later, Elizabeth took him from his mother and raised him as her own.
Elizabeth’s health began to decline in the late 1750s, and she died on 5 January 1762 after a reign of 20 years. She was succeeded by Peter, who became Peter III.